ONLY NOISE: Summertime Blues

COLUMNS|Only Noise

The shorts are out. The pasty, prickly legs wearing the shorts are out, too. It’s sunny every day and we’re starting to remember that we own arms, and shins, and sandals. Birds chirp in the morning, cats moan at night, and hemlines rise with the temperatures. Isn’t it great?

That all depends. Sure, we’re in pleasant weather now, but before you know it you’ll be sweating through pants and underpants, kicking your bedmate away at night, and trying to schmooze your way into the esteemed echelons of friends with air conditioning units.

Summer is upon us early this year, prompting me to address my fellow shade seekers. Don’t worry, I can’t #summer either. How could I? I don’t play ultimate Frisbee. My surfing lessons started and stopped on a wave-less day at Rockaway Beach. I can “ride a bike” only in the capacity that I can “cook” – for survival purposes alone. And until they can make a bikini out of a black turtleneck and a motorcycle jacket, I will feel perpetually out of place in summer outfits, or as some call them, “dresses.”

So what are we supposed to listen to on the 85-degree days, crouched under patches of shade while everyone else at the BBQ dances to “summer jamz”? Don’t we get an anti-Ibiza anthem? In fact, there are plenty of songs commiserating with our Heliophobia. And yes, most of them are by Morrissey. The lugubrious Brit couldn’t have possibly maintained that sallow glow by overexposing himself to the UV Rays, now could he?

Songs like “The Lazy Sunbathers,” “Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning,” and Morrissey’s cover of Patti Smith’s “Redondo Beach” wink at the singer’s grotesque relationship with warm weather and those who enjoy it. The former seems to correlate catching a few rays with mass public ignorance. “The lazy sunbathers,” Moz croons, “Too jaded/To question stagnation/The sun burns through/To the planet’s core/And it isn’t enough/They want more.” Only an Englishman could vilify sun seekers so much.

But it’s the melodramatic “Lifeguard On Duty” from 1990’s Bona Drag that injects a common summer job with existential weight.

“The work you chose has a practical vein/But I read much more into your name/Lifeguard” Morrissey intones.

The only mention of Moz getting wet at this beach, however, is when he walks back through the center of the town, “Drenched in phlegm every time that I come home/Lifeguard save me from life/…Save me from the ails and the ills/And from other things.” Other things…like phlegm.

Another known hater of the heat is Philly’s oddball balladeer David E. Williams, whose menacing “Summer Wasn’t Made For You And Me” really sums life for the sunless.

Stalking a snowy Coney Island in a suit and tie, Williams drones, “Summer wasn’t made for you and me/With its screaming children and the heat’s obscenity/And all the stupid palefaces from town/Ridiculously fashionably brown.”

It’s a real beach party.

In my defense, I’ve gotten much better at summering in the past 15 years. My black clothing and I have come a long way since our first punk rock summer together in 2003, when I refused to wear anything but a patched hoodie and skinny jeans regardless of the season. I went three full years without revealing more than my hands and head to the sun, covering myself like a Victorian aristocrat.

Come freshman year of high school I decided it was finally time to embrace my Spanish heritage and get a tan. This was largely prompted by the fact that my best friend at the time, Daniel, criticized my forced paleness. “You tan naturally. Trying to force yourself pale is the same as all of the pale girls in school going to tanning beds.” Touché. Cocky with the knowledge that I’d never sunburned before, I lay out for hours one day sans sunblock – and subsequently turned a painful shade of cooked crustacean.

Since then I’ve found a safe space between full-body coverage and UV searing, but it’s still a struggle to exist in the summertime. Perhaps denial would be a wise approach to our collective heatstroke; it certainly worked for The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt in the deliciously sullen “I Don’t Believe In The Sun.”

“So I don’t believe in the sun,” Merritt wails. “How could it shine down on everyone/And never shine on me/How could there be/Such cruelty.”

Whether it is the sun, or summer love that left you scorched, Merritt assures us that ignoring our problems will definitely make them go away. Like Morrissey, The Magnetic Fields write recurring fuck-yous to the hi-temp months. In “Summer Lies” we hear a tale of deception.

“All the sweetest things you said and I believed were summer lies/Hanging in the willow trees like the dead were summer lies/I’ll never fall in love again.”

Perhaps summer-lovers are better at summer love, but Merritt and his Magnetic Fields may never know.

The odd thing about both Merritt and Morrissey is that although they are insufferable miserablists, they write such goddamn catchy pop songs that their melodies often outshine their dour lyrics. So bring the boombox to the beach, and from beneath your umbrella and wide-brimmed hat, sing along:

“The only sun I ever knew/Was the beautiful one that was you/Since you went away/It’s night time all day/And it’s usually raining, too.”

I bet no one will even notice.

The greatest betrayal of summer is one we don’t understand until we graduate and join the workforce. Summer becomes a myth; a vestige of childhood when adults paid our rent, fed us, and all we had to worry about was what to do on Saturday night. But now we have what Eddie Cochran (and Robert Gordon, and Joan Jett, and Marc Bolan) referred to as the “Summertime Blues.”

“I’m gonna raise a fuss, I’m gonna raise a holler/About a-workin’ all summer just to try to earn a dollar.”

As kids we used to play in the woods (where there’s plenty of shade), go on long camping excursions, and eat ice cream without an ounce of regret. But here we are: staring at desktops and clicking away, still waiting for the school bell.

But at least we have The Magnetic Fields and Morrissey to crouch in the shade with – what’s that you say? Moz moved to Hollywood, got a tan and abandoned us? He is a Lazy Sunbather now, too?

Well, in the words of David E. Williams:

“Was summer made for them?/Well, yes, maybe/But summer wasn’t made for you and me.”

And let’s not forget, that in addition to sunburns and heatstroke, summer also=SHARKS.

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